Stock photos and stock images can make the difference between a good project and a great project. Not only are they often inspiring and useful for ideas in the early stages of a project, but they can also be used to add finishing touches to your work or to take to clients as mockups before you go out and shoot your own photos. Here, we bring you eight of the best places to find stock images, and tips on how to find the best images within those stock libraries. See also: Best free old images.

How to find the best stock photos

Before we take a look at the best stock libraries on the web, it's worth highlighting that finding the best stock images can rely on your searches within the stock libraries as well as the libraries themselves. Think carefully about the image you're looking for and the keywords that are going to help you find it.

Be precise in what you search for. Do you want a happy cat, a grumpy cat or one – like that above – that's focussed on its prey (like you are on finding the right image – it's a metaphor, right). Do you want it on a white background – in which case put quotes round "white background" so the stock site's search engine knows you want a cat on a white background rather than a white cat on a – or in the – background. 

For the best results, be as precise as you can, eg "tortoiseshell cat" looking hungry at mouse prey "blurred background". If this doesn't get you what you want, try synonyms (different words that mean the same thing). If that doesn't do it, remove different terms in term to broaden your search.

Many sites also include visual tools to help you refine your search: eg with or without people, orientation (portrait, landscape, square, etc), price  .

Best stock photos: Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock offers high-quality images that you can use in your projects. There's a 30-day trial, and you'll get 10 images for free when you sign up for that trial to give you an idea of what to expect.

When your 30-day trial is over, you'll find that prices for a single image start at £5.99, while the subscription model gets you 10 images per month for £19.99 or up to 750 per month for £119, after which each additional image will cost you 69p.

There are also HD and 4K videos available from £39.99 each, too.

One of the biggest advantages of using Adobe Stock is that you can get access to the images from within your Adobe Creative Cloud apps including Photoshop and InDesign, and you can try them out with watermarks for mockups to show to clients before you commit to buying them.

Find images in the Adobe Stock library.

Best stock photos: Alamy

Alamy is another popular stock library for illustrators and designers. There are no subscription options there – instead individual licenses start at £9.99 per image.

You'll find everything from abstract images and backgrounds to landscapes and lifestyle, so there should always be something that works for you. There are more than 80 million images to choose from, all of high quality too.

Find images in the Alamy library.

Best stock photos: Desposit Photos

Deposit Photos has more than 50 million photos to choose from, all of them royalty-free. You'll also find high-definition video footage, illustrations, vector art and editorial images - there's something for everyone.

You can choose to download images on demand from £31 for five images, or you could opt for one of Deposit Photos' subscription packages. The daily subscription starts at £64 per month for 10 images per day, while the monthly subscription starts at £39 per month for 50 images per month.

Find images in the Deposit Photos library.

Best stock photos: Fotolia

Fotolia was recently acquired by Adobe but remains its own site for now, with 59 million royalty free images, vectors and videos at your disposal. There are various options including pay-as-you-go, monthly packs and subscription plans.

Credit packs start at £10.20 for 10 credits, while the monthly pack with five downloads per month is £16 per month and unused downloads will rollover too, making this a great option. The daily subscription costs £149 per day for 25 downloads and you can cancel after just one day if you prefer.

Find images in the Fotolia library.

Best stock photos: Getty

A fifth option for great stock images is Getty, and it's one of the oldest too. It offers millions of images and plenty of videos in a huge variety of categories. 

It's worth noting that Getty and iStock are both owned by Getty, and while they seem to be slowly merging they are currently quite different. Getty is designed for those with bigger budgets, and even offers exclusive licenses for big advertising campaigns, for example. You'll find editorial images of current events for newspapers there too.

High resolution Getty UltraPacks start at £2,000 for five images, or individual images can be purchased for £485. If you're happy with low resolution, you can purchase a 5 Pack for £675.

Find images in the Getty library.

Best stock photos: iStock

iStock is Getty's offering that is aimed at the smaller businesses and individuals. You'll find images that are much easier on the wallet, including iStock Essentials and iStock Signature collections.

iStock works slightly differently when it comes to purchasing the images, too. You can buy credits to use against your purchases, or get a subscription.

Three credits can be purchased for £20, which will typically get you one image from the stock library. Alternatively, a 50 images per month annual subscription is £49 per month, and there are various other options available if you decide you need more, less, or want to pay for just one month.

Find images in the iStock library.

Best stock photos: Nature Picture Library

Nature Picture Library doesn't have the nicest website design, but it could just offer the photograph or image you need for your project so it's well worth a look. As the name suggests, the images are all of animals, plants, landscapes and other elements of nature. Prices start at £30 per image and there are hundreds of different options to help you make sure you're getting the license that you need.

Find images in the Nature Picture Library.

Best stock photos: Shutterstock

Shutterstock boasts over 93 million royalty-free images, and claims that there are more than 800,000 new images added every week. You'll find photos, vectors, illustrations, icons, videos and even music on the easy-to-use site, which even includes an editor to allow you to quickly crop into photos, for example. You can also upload an image or photo to find similar ones. This works remarkably well for some elements of a photo – hair, pose and background for example. But as this example using this photo of Beyoncé shows, finding model shots of girls that look like Beyoncé are a bit beyond its talents.

Basic image packs start at £32 for five images, or you can opt for the yearly professional account for 750 images per month.

Find images in the Shutterstock library.